Federal judiciary edges closer to gender parity, but numbers of minorities drop


Hmm. Effect of change in Minister?:

The federal judiciary is edging closer to gender parity after the second consecutive year in which more women than men were appointed judges, new data show. Women now make up 43 per cent of the 905 full-time judges.

But the numbers of minorities dropped, also for the second year in a row. There were just four members of visible-minority groups chosen, and two Indigenous persons, out of 86 new judges.

In the wake of the new statistics, some members of the legal community are urging the government to do more to appoint minorities to the bench.

“I think it is time now to redefine what we mean by merit,” said Daphne Dumont, a former president of the Canadian Bar Association who practises law in Charlottetown.

“I think you can be highly meritorious for all sorts of reasons that aren’t necessarily the reasons given in the application form that you have to fill in.” For instance, Indigenous lawyers who have returned to their home communities to bring them access to justice have shown merit. The process, she and others said, typically rewards those who are perceived as leaders through volunteering, teaching and participating on boards of legal associations.

The Liberal government revised the appointment process in 2016, with a stated emphasis on diversity. For the first time, the government asked judicial applicants whether they are disabled, a member of a visible minority or an ethnic/cultural minority, LGBTQ2 or Indigenous.

Each year, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs reports on the numbers of applicants and appointments from each of the groups. The numbers cover federally appointed courts such as the superior courts of provinces, the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court.

From October, 2016, to October, 2017, an equal number of men and women – 37 – were appointed to these courts, although men far outnumbered women among applicants. The following year, female applicants for the first time outnumbered males, and the numbers appointed also exceeded those of males – 46 to 33. This year, appointments were 47 women, 39 men.

By contrast, the numbers went down among the minority groups. This year (from October, 2018, to October, 2019), there were 20 appointees – 14 from ethnic/cultural groups; four visible minorities; two Indigenous; and zero categorized as LGBTQ2 or disabled. (There were 19 LGBTQ2 applicants and six disabled ones. Applicants can stay in the pool for two years.) The previous year, there were seven visible minorities, three Indigenous and 29 overall. The first year of the reports, in 2017, there were 32 – including nine visible minorities.

Rachel Rappaport, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the minister has met with legal organizations since his appointment early this year to encourage applicants from visible-minority, Indigenous, linguistic-minority and LGBTQ2 communities. The meetings were also a chance to identify barriers and work together on solutions to further expand the pool of candidates, she said.

Lori Anne Thomas, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, said the appointments of black and Indigenous judges have been “woefully lacking.” She said she was singling out those two groups because they are overrepresented in the criminal-justice system, and among families in the child-protection system.

“The women who are appointed are white women. It shows there have been a lot of efforts in the legal community to create fairness and equality when it comes to gender, but it’s still not there in terms of race, or Indigenous persons,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Thomas said she would like to see “more consideration” given to members of overrepresented communities – for instance, for overcoming obstacles.

“Those who are racialized won’t be given the same kind of opportunities to speak on panels, to lead cases in the same way that especially their white male counterparts would be given.”

On that point, Scott Maidment, president of the Advocates’ Society, a lawyers’ group, said change needs to come from within the legal profession, too. To become a judge, “You need opportunities for leadership within the profession.” The Advocates’ Society has revised its leadership principles to stress inclusivity, he said.

Source: 43 per cent of federal judges

Japan: Muted in country of their birth, three women try to find their voice

Interesting vignettes and symbolic of some of the challenges:

As Japan’s demographic sands shift, with its graying population, declining regional communities and doors inching slowly further open to immigrant workers, three young Tokyoite women are envisioning a new way forward.

One is Korean, one is Chinese and the other is Japanese, but they all want to make the country they call home a more progressive, inclusive and representative place.

All three look like they could be any other young professional walking the streets of Japan’s capital, but when they speak they demonstrate a thoughtfulness that makes it obvious they have different motivations to most.

“I think, even like a few decades ago, it would be impossible for us to be having discussions and dialogue about how we want the future of Japan to be,” says Amy Tiffany Loo, 23.

Loo, the Chinese member of the trio, says the difficult history of relations between her ancestral homeland and those of her friends — Korean Chung Woohi, 25, and Japanese Yuka Hamanaka, 23 — means any discussion about a collective future in Japan would have been out of the question not so long ago.

“Woohi is ‘zainichi’ Korean, my family has been through a lot of upheavals through the Sino-Japanese war, and Yuka, she is a Japanese national, so when we engage in conversation we always talk about how we can think and discuss issues in a way that encompasses all three sides of us,” said Loo.

“The way we view history, it is very different. Me, coming from a Chinese background whose grandparents fought Japanese forces, it is going to be a very sensitive issue.”

Their varying ancestral histories may bring them into contrast, and even conflict sometimes, but their current shared realities in the country of their birth also gives them plenty in common.

As foreigners in their own country, the issue of representation is one that is particularly important to Chung and Loo, and it led them to evaluate the issue of voting rights for non-Japanese nationals ahead of the recent upper house election.

“There is a tendency for others to simplify us or to force us into a corner,” said Loo, a graduate of University of California Berkeley and now a consultant at a large multinational professional services company.

“But in our case, we have lived in Japan for over 15 to 20 years…And so, for us, we feel the same things that Japanese people feel. We care about gender inequality, we care about the right of disabled people, we care about children,” she said.

But as much as they care, they, like the rest of the more than 2.73 million foreigners living in Japan, have no way to voice their opinion by casting a vote for a candidate or party that represents their best interests.

“In the season of the election many people around me they always say ‘I voted’ or ‘let’s go vote,’ but my frustration was that I was unable to join that voice,” said Chung, an artist, activist and office worker.

Without a voice and with issues of great frustration at the current Japanese leadership’s attitude toward some Korea-related issues, Chung came together with her friends to start the #VoteForMe social media campaign.

“This campaign started from my personal frustration, I guess. I felt this kind of frustration because I have no right to vote in Japan even though I was born in Japan and grew up in Japan,” said Chung.

“I wanted to make a kind of bridge between the voters and those who don’t have the right to vote, so this #VoteForMe campaign is going to be the bridge between them.”

The women hoped the social media campaign would raise awareness about Japan’s disenfranchised among those who have a vote, making them realize that their vote is both valuable and has even more significance to those without a voice.

Ha Kyung Hee, an assistant professor at Meiji University who specializes in race, ethnicity and immigration, understands the motivations of the trio.

Herself a zainichi Korean, Ha says many foreign residents feel alienated from Japanese political discourse “even though they are impacted by it.”

“Election season is a painful moment as it reminds me that we are still excluded from one of the most basic civil rights,” said Ha.

“My family has been in Japan for 90 years, my first language is Japanese, and I want to call Japan my home. And yet, I hesitate because we are not treated with equality and fairness as full members of society.”

Through the process of naturalization, Japan gives foreign-born residents a chance to take the same rights as a Japanese person. They have to have lived in the country for a prescribed amount of time, and must meet a number of other conditions, but it requires they give up any other nationality and their old passport.

But many foreign passport holders do not believe they should be required to forfeit their nationality in order to have a voice in their home country.

Cognizant that a vote for “me” does not necessarily mean that vote will represent the views to which they prescribe, the three women want to make clear they are not trying to influence anyone to vote one way or another — they just want to open a dialogue about issues of importance.

“It gives us a chance to engage in a conversation. If I say ‘vote for me’ and then (someone) asks me what are your issues and they agree with it, then it is their choice,” said Loo.

“In engaging in a conversation, (someone) might change their mind, they might go the complete opposite way, but that’s their choice…but at least now I can put my picture.”

And this was the situation for Hamanaka, who, of course, does have a vote.

She was initially conflicted about being involved as she felt it may have been viewed as inauthentic.

“I wanted to support them, I wanted to do something with them, but I didn’t know how I can,” said Hamanaka, who is from Tokyo and works alongside Loo at the professional services company.

Even more frustrating for the women is that Japanese people are increasingly taking their opportunity to vote for granted, demonstrated by the poor turnout at the upper house poll in July.

At that election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner secured a healthy vote, turnout for voting for candidates standing in the electoral constituencies fell to 48.80 percent, the second-lowest on record since 44.52 percent in 1995.

In the proportional representation section, turnout was slightly lower at 48.79 percent, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

For Hamanaka, the indifference of her fellow Japanese is annoying, but understandable.

“I didn’t go vote (in the past) because I wanted to prioritize what I wanted to do at that time over going to vote, so I understand it,” she said.

“But not going to vote means they support the current system, so I want more people to think about the consequences.”

One solution to the lack of representation for foreigners would be for Japan to extend them the vote, as in some circumstances a number of other countries, including Japan’s close neighbor South Korea and a range of European nations, do.

Meiji University’s Ha says there is no reason for that not to become a reality, as with the numbers alone — foreigners make up about 2 percent of Japan’s population — the impact the foreign community could have is very limited.

“I absolutely think (foreigners being given a vote) is realistic, particularly for local elections, because we already have many examples from other countries.”

“I think it requires discussions as to whether or not foreign residents should have a right to participate in national elections, but currently there is no such discussion because in Japan political rights are thought to be strongly connected with one’s nationality.”

Similarly, Loo sees the likelihood of her getting a vote being a long way off, but says there is good reason for local governments to want to hear from their entire constituency, Japanese and non.

Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward is a perfect example of somewhere that foreigners need a voice.

The bustling, central Tokyo hub has a total of 43,065 foreign residents as of Aug. 1, according to its ward office, making up 12.3 percent of the total population — by some way the most of any municipality in Japan.

Therefore, says Loo, the local government should be a reflection of that relatively diverse demographic.

“Let’s say it is going to be 20 percent in the future, as the Japanese population shrinks, that means a kind of big chunk of people living in Shinjuku, for example, don’t have a say in how they want their community to be, how they want their living area to be.”

“So, something has to happen to change that system.”

There was a time when Japan gave serious thought to extending the vote to permanent residents.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the now-defunct centrist Democratic Party of Japan in 2010 supported an earlier Supreme Court ruling supporting the constitutionality of granting voting rights to non-Japanese nationals, but when he and then his party were ousted from power by the LDP, the push foundered.

There are examples of where permanent residents are allowed to vote in local referendums, such as in Maibara in Shiga Prefecture which became the first local municipality to allow it in 2002.

Since then, a number of other places have similarly allowed permanent residents a say in referendums on limited local matters, but no more than that.

Ha says much of the current thinking on the subject posits that there are only intangible reasons for major change being little more than a pipe dream.

“I see it as a symbolic refusal to treat foreign residents as equal partners in our society,” she said while pointing out that in many other countries, foreigners have a say.

“People in Japan really must start asking themselves what is so wrong about allowing foreign residents to vote instead of giving up on critical thinking and automatically equating voting rights with nationality.”

With universal suffrage realistically out of reach, at least for the foreseeable future, the #VoteForMe three have plans to make an impact elsewhere.

They plan to prepare a bigger and better campaign for the next Japanese poll, a general election that has to be held by October 2021, but also to expand their activities to encompass more activism.

Their next target is establishing a program to use performance art to highlight some targets of discrimination that hide in plain sight.

They want to bring attention to a range of issues of importance to them, with the treatment of Japan’s so-called burakumin population one such area of concern.

Hamanaka says that by using performance to highlight discrimination, it illuminates the reality faced by those suffering from in an accessible way: so that is the plan.

The meat-packing industry is particularly problematic, she says, because Japan’s burakumin, an outcast group traditionally rooted to the bottom of the social strata and restricted to working in jobs widely — and without any basis — considered “dirty” such as meat-processing, undertaking or as hide tanners, are a people whose plight should be more widely understood.

“In our daily lives it is very invisible, that process, but they are people who work in it and they are discriminated against in Japanese society, historically,” said Hamanaka.

“We are trying to make performance art in the place, and organizing a study tour to make the discrimination visible in a creative way.”

With impressive young women like Chung, Loo and Hamanaka trying to make their voices heard in Japan, the country is very likely moving in a positive direction.

However, the question remains whether the country’s leadership, or wider population, have any interest in listening.

Source: Muted in country of their birth, three women try to find their voice

The rise of female Sharia judges in India

Of note:

Earlier this year, Maya Rachel McManus, a British Muslim, walked down the aisle in Kolkata on her wedding day and exchanged garlands with her partner in a traditional Hindu ceremony.

Later, her marriage was solemnised by female qazis, or judges, who govern Islamic law. 

“Maybe my multicultural wedding would have been frowned upon if the qazis were men,” McManus told Al Jazeera.

“The ones my husband and I had spoken to had problems with some of my basic rights; like keeping my maiden name and my British passport after marriage.”

She insisted that women perform her wedding rites.

“This was the first time one of our qazis solemnised a marriage,” said Noorjehan Safia Niwaz, cofounder of Bhartiya Mahila Muslim Andolan (BMMA), an organisation that launched in 2007 in India advocating for secular rights.

In 2016, BMMA began training Muslim women to become qazis, a role traditionally held by men.

To McManus, and many of India’s millions of Muslims, the recent rise of female qazis means fewer compromises and a chance at more justice for women.

“What is common between all versions of Sharia or Islamic law that is followed today is that it is extremely patriarchal,” said Niwaz, who is also a qazi.

“Women continue to suffer. They become victims of nikkah halala (a practise in Islam where a woman once divorced by her husband must consummate her marriage with another man if she wants to remarry her first husband), polygamous marriages and unilateral divorces.”

There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis. Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several people.

EBRAHIM MOOSA, PROFESSOR OF ISLAMIC STUDIES AT INDIANA’S UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME

To replace what Niwas describes as a “misogynistic syllabus” designed for male qazis, BMMA drafted its own curriculum in which women study the Quran from a feminist perspective and examine the Indian constitution so they can make decisions, keeping in mind the law of the land.

“The practice of female [qazis] is novel in India, but the idea is not novel,” says Ebrahim Moosa, a professor

of Islamic studies at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame. “Muslims in North India followed the Hanafi school of law for centuries that allows women to be judges.”

According to BMMA, which is funded by private donors and charities, there are 15 female qazis spread across India including West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Orissa.

“We have over 150 cases in our centre alone,” said 47-year-old Hina Siddiqui, a qazi from Bandra, a western Mumbai suburb. “Though unlike male qazis, in each case we summon both the man and the woman involved. We don’t hear just one side of the story.”

Since triple talaq, or instant divorce, led by Muslim men was criminalised in India, carrying a possible jail sentence, Siddiqui and her colleagues have seen an increase in the number of distressed women in their offices.

“The men are now scared to give triple talaq,” said 60-year-old Zubeda Khatoon, another qazi in Bandra.

“So they abuse their wives both physically and emotionally, hoping that the woman will leave them instead. Another way this works in the man’s favour is that according to Sharia law if a woman asks for a divorce, her husband owes her no liabilities. “

This is where female qazis step in and attempt to ensure that women receive their legal rights during including receiving her mehr – a sum of money given to the bride on her wedding day, alimony and the belongings she contributed to the home after marriage.

For couples who wish to be married by a female qazi, there is a rigorous process. 

Through a period of one month, the judges verify the bride and groom’s details – including their identity, economic status, marital status and even their marzi, or personal reasons for wedlock. This is to reduce the rate of fraudulent marriages.

“They [the female qazis] explained the various aspects of the nikah [wedding] procedure to me. They were extremely helpful,” said McManus. “This kind of support was not forthcoming from the male qazis I had approached earlier.”

‘No such thing as women qazis’

But not everybody agrees that female qazis can better safeguard the interests of Muslim women.

“There is no such thing as women qazis in Islam. It is just a new-age thing,” Muslim leader Syed Moinuddin Ashraf, from Sunni Jama Mosque in Mumbai, told The Hindustan Times.

Moosa, the professor in Indiana, said while some schools of Islamic thought such as Shafiʿi, Ahl-e Hadis, and Salafi, prevent women from becoming qazis, it remains religiously permissible. 

“There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis,” he said. “Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several [people].”

In the two years that Siddiqui and Khatoon have been practising as qazis in Mumbai, they have presided over only one mutually consenting divorce. 

“In that case, we were able to get the woman two lakhs ($2,874) as maintenance from her husband,” said Khatoon. “But most people still prefer to have their divorce issued on the letterhead of male qazis.”

According to Niwaz, 30 more women eager to enrol in the second batch of qazi training by BMMA.

“Maya’s wedding [McManus’s] went through without any objections,” she says. “We haven’t had any fatwas issued for the work we [female qazis] are doing. We exist. That in itself is a positive thing.”

Source: The rise of female Sharia judges in India

A New Law Finally Passed on Foreign Women’s Lebanese Citizenship

Partial progress:

It is no secret that women in Lebanon have to deal still with archaic gender-bias laws that require urgent changes, adjustments, or even the total eradication of some. Reconciling their reality with the Lebanese progressive mentality and our women’s high level of education and career success has been a painful hardship for our society.

Among these laws, the rights of Lebanese women to nationalize their children when born to foreign fathers, and the rights of foreign spouses to the nationality.

The struggles have been more relevant these past two decades, naturally, considering the ongoing evolution of our women and their awakening to what’s right and fair and what isn’t in our laws. Hence, in recent years, their efforts and endeavors have been many, even countless, to bring balance and harmony to our human society with judicial fairness and rights.

So, no wonder we get to heartily welcome now the memorandum of the Director-General for Personal Status, Mr. Elias Khoury. He demands from the Head of Departments and Registry Officers the application of Article 5 of the Lebanese Nationality Law.

The Article 5 declares, “The foreign woman married to a Lebanese shall, upon her request, become Lebanese after one year from the date of registration of the marriage in the Civil Status Office.”

Therefore, as of this month, foreign women spouses of Lebanese citizens are entitled to apply for the Lebanese citizenship at the registry offices without the signature of their husbands.

The memorandum stressed that “A new form must be adapted to fill the application for citizenship, which preserves the law of nationality from one side and is less complicated than the previous model, in both practical and administrative terms, while adhering to the same mechanism in order to ensure all information contained in the application and the right of women to obtain Nationality.”

In force as of April 1st, both the memorandum and the new form state: “Memorandum No. 35 concerning the mechanism and conditions of reception and completion of transactions of acquisition of nationality by marriage.”

These Mechanisms and conditions can be reviewed on the website of the Directorate General for Civil Status www.dgcs.gov.lb

It remains that foreign women working or residing in Lebanon cannot, by law, apply for citizenship if they are not married to a Lebanese man. That privilege is granted only by ‘male priority placed on women’ and not by their own rights.

Nonetheless, we maintain hope that this is only the beginning for more and more improvements and changes towards a more consciously evolved human society. After all, the reason of existence of any and all laws is, by principle and ethics, to serve the well-being of all citizens equally. Failure to do so, their reason to exist is no longer.

Source: A New Law Finally Passed on Foreign Women’s Lebanese Citizenship

Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

More relevant reporting:

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC’s Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst many of the jihadists’ supporters who have left the area, including many women, remains defiant.

The encampment in the village of Baghuz is barely more than a few holes in the dirt covered with blankets. It is squalid and filthy.

But above it flies the black Islamic State flag, fresh and clean. IS fighters had raised it only the day before, an act of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

“That’s a sign they will fight,” says a soldier belonging to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines battling the jihadists.

Just 24 hours later the battle resumed. It was the end of a ceasefire that had seen more than 12,000 leave in the preceding few days.

One day last week in the early morning, more than 20 trucks led by Humvees armed with machine guns went inside the tiny IS enclave to evacuate jihadist fighters and their families.

I followed these vehicles on their return journey to the desert where they were checked, separated, and sent on to camps run by the SDF forces. One military commander told me the total number of people evacuated was about 7,000.

The hunger and anger was evident on their faces. As I walked among them with my camera, trying to talk to them and film, several IS women suddenly attacked me and threw stones, dust and cans.

“Go film the brothers, don’t come here. Go. Leave. Go film them, we’re the woman of the Islamic State, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is greatest),” they said.

A few weeks ago, the SDF estimated the number of IS families and fighters left remaining in Baghuz to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But in just two days last week, 9,000 people emerged.

The final territory under IS’s control may be on its last legs in Syria, but the ideology remains strong among those who have left.

Many of the IS women I encountered threatened of violent jihad and raising their children to become jihadist fighters.

Two captors for one woman

Among the thousands of people turning up out of Baghuz, I also found victims of IS’s notorious brutality, including one Yazidi woman called Adiba.

A mother of two, Adiba was enslaved for five years after IS attacked her small village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014.

Her husband was one of the hundreds of Yazidi men killed by the jihadist group, and she – like thousands of Yazidi women – was forced to convert to Islam and was used as a sex slave.

She says she was enslaved by a Moroccan man who beat her constantly and raped her. He was the father of her two-year-old child.

“I had to marry him. When we were alone he wasn’t good to me, he was always angry with me, but in front of people he treated me well,” Adiba tells me.

After Adiba’s first captor died, she was taken by another Moroccan man named Ahmed – orders she says came from her first captor in the event of his death.

Ahmed, who surrendered to the SDF last week, has denied enslaving Adiba.

Most of the people evacuated from Baghuz recently, including many foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq to live under IS rule, have been transported to the SDF-controlled camp al-Hol, in the north-east of the country.

The camp was designed to accommodate 20,000 people but the UN says conditions there are dire as the numbers have risen to more than 66,000.

The global dream of an Islamic State caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – is on the brink of collapse, with most of its leadership gone and many captured by the SDF and coalition forces.

Hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered. Separated from their families, they sit in long queues in an area inaccessible to journalists, where US Special Forces and SDF soldiers interrogate them and send them on to detention centres and prisons under Kurdish control.

After losing their self-proclaimed caliphate, a sense of sadness, anger and indignation was clear among these fighters who are stuck in the middle of the desert, waiting to be moved into detention camps, away from their wives and children.

Source: Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing

Not surprising:

After an 18-year-old Saudi woman, who said she feared death if deported to Saudi Arabia, arrived in Canada, she directed some of her first public commentsback home. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun encouraged other women to flee family abuse and the oppressive controls imposed on them by the conservative kingdom.

She has just showed them how to do it.

Alqunun was offered asylum in Canada in January after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room, from where she mounted a sophisticated social media campaign that sparked international headlines and sympathy.

But in Saudi Arabia, Alqunun’s successful escape from a prominent family spurred harsh media attacks and a social media narrative accusing Western nations of using Saudi women to undermine the kingdom. Still, the domestic campaign is unlikely to deter other young women from fleeing the kingdom, say activists who are in touch with women planning to run.

The high-profile story is “going to set off copycat scenarios,” says Bessma Momani, a Middle East specialist at Canada’s University of Waterloo. “I think women will feel more emboldened.”

She explains that Alqunun’s story has provided a virtual road map for others and revealed a network of groups willing to work out logistics and offer escape strategies. “Rahaf’s story showed there is a quasi-organized group that is willing to help,” Momani says.

Alqunun’s asylum in Canada comes as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often referred to as MBS, portrays himself as the leader who is steering the country toward a more secular modernity.

Movie theaters have reopened. Saudi women can now drive cars and attend sports events. The kingdom says it has made it easier for women to enter the workplace.

“Any way you slice it, MBS has done more change than anyone in the last 50 years,” says Ali Shihabi, who heads the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi think tank in Washington, D.C. Reform is “an art rather than a science,” he says, “and being an art, there are going to be mistakes. He can’t let the snowball get too big.”

The crown prince is also behind a harsh crackdown on political dissent. That includes jailing more than a dozen women’s rights activists who were vocally pushing for an end to Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which allows male relatives to control most aspects of a woman’s life.

“When MBS came, he made it clear: ‘You either listen to me, or you go to jail,’ ” says Yasmine Farouk, a visiting scholar in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“He is that much of a dictator that he is able to impose measures that other kings were too scared to impose on society. We are talking about a regime that wants to do everything under its control.”

But the growing number of Saudis seeking refuge abroad undermines Prince Mohammed’s international image as a leader bringing new personal freedoms to the kingdom, says 30-year-old Samah Damanhoori. She was granted asylum in the United States last year after she accused her family of abuse and declared she was no longer a Muslim.

“OK, we are going to let you drive — happy now? Stop running away,” she says, to explain her views on reforms introduced by Prince Mohammed. “But more women are running away. We have to do that to get them full rights.”

In Saudi Arabia, men wield vast powers over women. The guardianship system gives male relatives control over women’s travel, education, medical treatment and marriage. An app called Absher allows Saudi men to specify when and where a woman can travel. The service includes a message alert when a woman uses her passport at an airport or a border crossing.

Fleeing even an abusive home is a crime. If caught, a woman can be jailed or housed in a government-run shelter until her guardian permits her release.

Alqunun’s success was a “huge shake,” Damanhoori says, because she comes from a prominent family, the daughter of a powerful governor.

“The more powerful the family, the harder for a woman to escape, because of family connections. But she made it.”

Alqunun’s family status may explain why the Saudi government has ramped up a campaign to stem the flow. In recent weeks, the General Department for Counter Extremism released an online video as a warning. The animated message compares women who flee the country to young men who join terrorist groups — and blames a vast international conspiracy that it says is aiming to damage the kingdom’s image through its youth.

“Everyone who tried to escape, they compare her with ISIS — it’s horrible,” complains Damanhoori.

“This is not going to end,” says Hala Aldosari, a Saudi activist and writer based in New York. “It will get worse.”

Aldosari says the government blames “agents of the West” and “women activists” as the culprits of the alleged global plot to destabilize Saudi Arabia, “rather than the grievance of the women.” She says the common denominator among those trying to flee is that they are “women who come from controlling or abusive families” and who believe that running is the only way to survive.

The rise of social media has opened a window for people to compare Saudi women’s rights with women’s rights in other Gulf nations. “Saudi women are now more aware of the restriction they live with, and they take higher risks to escape,” Aldosari says.

Reliable statistics in Saudi Arabia on these escapes are hard to find. Some families don’t report a missing daughter for fear of social stigma in a society where a family’s honor is tied to the behavior of women.

Figures on Saudi asylum-seekers abroad, however, are known to have increased. Saudis made 815 asylum claims worldwide in 2017, compared with 195 in 2012, according to the latest tallies published in the United Nations Refugee Agency’s database. Their destinations include the U.S., Canada, Germany, Sweden, the U.K. and Australia.

In 2011, Manal al-Sharif was jailed for nine days in Saudi Arabia for protesting driving restrictions. Her activism cost her the custody of her son, she says. Now she is living in self-imposed exile in Sydney.

“These proclaimed reforms are just refurbishing a huge cage,” al-Sharif says of the changes in Saudi Arabia. “We can’t run a country when half of it is depending on the other half.”

But inside the kingdom, the crown prince is largely viewed as trying to change that equation, says Farouk at Carnegie. “It really is a paradox. It’s the strong man who is able to impose reforms without being afraid of the consequences.”

But Saudi officials know the consequences of the continued flight of women. That undermines the international message that Saudi Arabia is modernizing and that Prince Mohammed has opened a new era of freedoms.

Alqunun’s father, who is a governor, released a statement in January saying that the family had disowned the runaway and calling her “the mentally unstable daughter who has displayed insulting and disgraceful behavior.” That prompted the 18-year-old to drop her family name, she told reporters.

Her father reportedly denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into marriage, according to The Associated Press.

So far, Farouk says, the domestic response, even among women, is to condemn Alqunun’s escape as reckless.

“They don’t care,” Farouk says. “Things have changed in their daily life: They can drive to work, they can go to concerts, play sports. As long as their daily life has been made easier, why care about politics?”

But there is still a limit to personal freedoms. “They will care when they try to contest a policy at work,” she says. “They will be jailed or interrogated, or their fathers will have to get them out of the police station. They will care, but it will take time.”

Source: Saudi Kingdom Tries To Prevent More Women From Fleeing

Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Reminder of need for caution regarding wannabe returnees:

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria, March 8 (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, attempting to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.

“They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria. “They tried to hit us.”

The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.

Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis. Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity. More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.

The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women. On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.

“The foreigners throw stones. They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials. Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.

‘WE NEED HELP’

Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.

Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.

Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered. But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.

Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children. While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.

“The situation in the camp is very miserable. The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.

When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.

“Even the big tents are full. People are sleeping out in the open.”

The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own. The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.

Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.

CAMP SKIRMISHES

Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin”, and locals who were members or lived under its rule.

“There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.

She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate”. Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.

“The natives … they were kind of rude. They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on. It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.

“Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone. Now there are no problems.”

Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others. “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.

The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.

“There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others. This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “The situation is under control.”

The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz. It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.

Source: Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

More background on the women who joined or supported ISIS:

Thousands of foreign-born women left their homes and lives to join Islamic State and marry its fighters. But now that the militant group’s so-called caliphate is reduced to crumbled masonry and scorched rebar, many of them want to return home.

Shamima Begum was a teenage schoolgirl in east London when she left home to join Islamic State; Hoda Muthana, an Alabama-born college student; Kimberly Gwen Polman, a 46-year-old single mom in Canada studying to be a children’s advocate. Now they’re held in a Kurdish-controlled prison in the hinterlands of eastern Syria, asking to be let back into their home countries.

The women branded “ISIS brides,” using initials for the militant group, have become a focal point of fierce debate for governments worldwide: What are states’ responsibilities toward these women?

A central question in that debate is what exactly did the women do in the caliphate? Were they cloistered housewives largely ignorant of the group’s realities, or active participants in its genocidal acts?

Women initially did not join combat

When Islamic State declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014, it called upon all able-bodied Muslims to emigrate and engage in jihad, or struggle, to further its cause.

Initially, for women, that didn’t include combat, said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

“The role of the Muslim woman ideally was to be a wife and bear children,” he said in a phone interview, “and as a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.”

While its militants were waging what Islamic State called “offensive jihad” — blitz campaigns that saw the group put a third of Iraq and Syria each under its dominion — women were to be “bases of support” for husbands, fathers and sons, one wife explained.

Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris gunman who killed five people in two January 2015 attacks, offered advice for fighters’ wives during a interview in an Islamic State magazine.

“Be advisors to them. They should find comfort and peace with you,” she said in an article in the February 2015 issue of Dabiq. “Do not make things difficult for them. Facilitate all matters for them.”

As a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.

Boumeddiene, who like her husband was born in France, is still at large and being sought by French authorities.

Women did claim more operational roles in suicide attacks outside Islamic State territories, said Devorah Margolin, a senior research analyst at the War Studies Department of Kings College London.

But most women who traveled to the caliphate intent on reaching the battlefield were unable to do so.

That changed to a degree as the group began to lose territory and many of its fighters were killed. It began to wage “defensive jihad.”

“By 2017 and 2018 they were proactively calling for women to engage in combat as well,” said Winter.

But there is little evidence women did so in large numbers.

Winter said there had been rumors of women given explosives and weapons training, but Islamic State never confirmed these reports.

There had been predictions women would increasingly take part in suicide bombings, since they generally have an easier time passing through checkpoints and whose faces could remain hidden under their garments.

There was also precedence for their deployment: Abu Musab Zarqawi, the spiritual godfather of Islamic State, dispatched Sajida Rishawi with a suicide vest to the Hotel Radisson in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. She failed to detonate her bomb but was caught by authorities after her husband’s device killed 38 people.

Some carried guns in the religious police force

Islamic State’s religious police, known as the Hisbah, roamed its territory to ensure residents were complying with the caliphate’s harsh edicts. People found in violation faced imprisonment, whipping and amputation. An all-female police force known as the Khansaa Brigade was an integral part of the Hisbah.

“We saw women in the Hisbah. They were all armed,” said Saad Ubaidi, who owns a beauty salon with his wife in Mosul, Iraq.

“Iraqi women had guns, but the foreigners carried ghadaraat,” said Ubaidi, using the slang term for Uzi machine guns.

Women played a vital part in the propaganda war

Women may not have fought on the battlefield, but they helped Islamic State spread its message.

“They were very much part of the propaganda machine of this state-building process,” said Margolin, who is writing a report on women’s role in violent Islamist groups for George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Women were some of Islamic State’s most active recruiters online, she said.

Blogs and social media accounts ostensibly held by foreign-born female adherents advertised their lives as if they were in an Islamist utopia. They encouraged others to do hijrah, emigrate to the caliphate.

Some would provide a guide on how to avoid being identified as someone traveling to Syria to join Islamic State. Others would suggest what to pack for life in the caliphate (makeup and Islamic clothing, according to one blogger), or offer quotidian details on how the group assigned housing to fighters and women.

Others would cheer for the group’s barbarism and gruesome tactics.

Muthana, the Alabama-born student and daughter of a Yemeni diplomat who joined Islamic State in 2014, exhorted Americans to follow her lead.

“Soooo many Aussies and Brits here,” she tweeted from her now-suspended account. “But where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”

She encouraged those who couldn’t travel to Islamic State territory to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades..go on drive by’s + spill all of their blood or rent a big truck n drive all over them. Kill them,” she tweeted.

Women took part in the enslavement of Yazidis

In August 2014, the extremists surrounded Mt. Sinjar in northwestern Iraq. They began to hunt the Yazidis, an ancient religious minority long persecuted for their beliefs, which include elements of Christianity and Judaism. Islamic State viewed them as devil-worshipers.

Thousands of Yazidi men were slaughtered; women and girls were kidnapped and driven away to be sold in markets or given as gifts. In their enslavement, the women and girls would be servants to the household’s wife and raped by the husband.

One wife of an Islamic State member with a Yazidi enslaved in her household defended the practice in an issue of Dabiq. Her article was entitled “Slave-girls or Prostitutes?”

The woman, who called herself Umm Sumayyah al Muhajirah, cited religious texts and the works of scholars to construct an argument for taking Yazidi women as concubines. And she dismissed reports of abuse, attributing them to “devious and wicked slave girls” who “made up lies and wrote false stories.”

And whereas sex with a Yazidi slave is permissible, she adds, prostitutes in the West “openly commit sin.”

“Leave us alone with your burping,” she wrote of people judging the slave practice.

Pinning down what each person did will be difficult

Investigators looking for clues to the individual actions of each woman, away from social media, will have a difficult time gathering evidence admissible in a court of law.

“In the U.S., we’ve had 16 people who returned that we know of, 13 have been prosecuted in federal courts, so there’s a system to do it,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But most of those were people who admitted their actions, he added. For those who don’t, investigators using Islamic State documents, for example, have to have a rock-solid chain of evidence, which is difficult to establish in the chaotic environment of a war zone.

Witnesses, often intelligence or security personnel, are often reluctant to testify in open court, and identifying women dressed in three-layer niqabs, the de rigueur face covering, will be unreliable.

Even the social media presence these women maintained is being lost. Blogging sites like Tumblr or WordPress, and messaging platforms such as Telegram, have aggressively shut down the accounts of Islamic State-affiliated users.

In any case, said Margolin, the women probably weren’t lying when they said they had been mostly concerned with family matters, but that didn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“Yes, they were wives and mothers, but what that means isn’t like what we mean when we think of a housewife,” said Margolin.

As the bearers of the group’s ideology for the next generation of fighters, she said, they were pursuing a higher objective.

“They represented,” said Margolin, “the future and permanence of Islamic State.”

Source: Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

The West Needs to Take the Politics of Women in ISIS Seriously

Well worth reading and reflecting upon that these were conscious choices by the women involved and that they should not be portrayed as victims:

In recent weeks, the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have closed in on the last remaining Islamic State holdout in eastern Syria. The remains of the so-called caliphate occupy less than half of a square mile of a small village called Baghuz, and all but a few hundred remaining insurgents have been driven out of the area by U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish ground operations. Over a thousand fighters and civilians, including many Islamic State militants’ wives and children, have fled. The SDF houses them in camps such as al-Hol, where humanitarian conditions are dire and the application of international law is ambiguous at best.

In the camps, the muhajirat, that is, Western women who joined the Islamic State, are easy to find. And tales of muhajirat like the American Hoda Muthana and the British Shamima Begum “begging to come home” have dominated headlines over the last two weeks. Their stories are part of a wave of recent coverage of Islamic State women, much of it pointing to a supposedly new and uniquely dangerous “Islamic State women problem.” Unfortunately, many of these accounts rest on flimsy scholarship and irresponsible reporting. The sensationalist, politicized, and often factually misleading nature of some reports masks complex political dynamics and peddles tired cliches about women in war, now cast with Iraqis and Syrians instead of Palestinian, Chechen, Timorese, Lebanese, Tamil, or Nigerian women.

The persistent appeal and shock value of the “beautiful but deadly” female fighter depends on an assumption that women have no politics and that their only natural role in times of conflict is to play the (usually sexualized) victim. Media coverage and rhetoric that reduces conflict-affected women to rape victims, sex slaves, or, most recently, “ISIS brides” lends itself to policy responses that have terrible consequences for innocent people. Women’s presumed victimhood has been deployed to justify military intervention, to excuse or obscure widespread human rightsabuses of civilians, and to privilege the judgment of external actors or local male elites over the perspectives of local women about what they need in the aftermath of war. Over-simplified victimization narratives are so entrenched that evidence of women’s political agency in wartime reads as either false consciousness (“ISIS lures women with kittens, Nutella”) or as a monstrous upending of femininity and the natural order.

Sensationalized accounts may garner far more clicks thansober social science, but the bland truth is that women in the Islamic State fall into well-established patterns.

For one, the idea that armed extremism has only recently become attractive to women is simply false. Since shortly after the Islamic State’s inception, women have taken on armed and unarmed roles in it; they have served as police in the group’s all-female Khansaa Brigade, as members of the all-female counterinsurgency brigade Umm al-Rayan, and as recruiters and propagandists. Both foreign and domestic recruits have participated in the brutal torture of Yazidi captives while also playing more domestic roles supporting male Islamic State fighters. Toggling back and forth between violent and nonviolent activities is not unique to the women who have participated in the Islamic State, however. In fact, this is the norm.

Further, although some reports have painted women’s voluntary participation in the Islamic State as unexpected given the group’s ideas about gender, it is not surprising in light of the histories of women in other Islamist and violent movements. Although less likely in groups that identify with Salafi doctrines, women’s participation, including in combat roles, still occurs. For example, women made significant support and frontline contributions to groups in Kashmir and fundamentalist organizations in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

More nuanced reporting on women who joined the Islamic State highlights a broad range of motivations for joining, including survival and coercion as well as status and deeply held commitments to the group’s doctrines. This, too, is consistent with extensive research on women’s participation in other conflicts, which finds that their motivations are deeply political and suggests that they generally have the same reasons for joining armed organizations as men do. Portraying Islamic State women’s behavior as unique to this organization is decontextualizing and counterproductive. It feeds into arguments about the singular brutality of the Islamic State that have been used to justify a heavily military-focused response likely to undermine post-conflict recovery.

Western governments would do well to confront the fact that many Islamic State women reported feeling more liberated after they had joined, not because they liked fighting but because they believed that men in the Islamic State respected their commitment as Muslims. Many of the muhajirat in particular reported fleeing isolation, disaffection, and discrimination as Muslim women in the West. Stripping them of citizenship and otherwise treating Muslims as second-class citizens has every chance of contributing to the dynamics that led women to join in the first place. The same goes for blanket suspicion of anyone wearing a niqab.

Portraying the women of the Islamic State exclusively as victims to be saved or monsters to be feared strips women of their humanity and denies them the complexity, nuance, and depth that media and policymakers readily afford to men. Post-conflict policy that fails to take women’s politics seriously will only feed cycles of violence and impede the pursuit of a sustainable peace.

Source: The West Needs to Take the Politics of Women in ISIS Seriously

Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail

So much for MBS’s efforts to present an image of reform:

Just weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift its ban on women driving, the kingdom’s state security said Saturday it had detained seven people who are being accused of working with “foreign entities.” Rights activists say all those detained had worked in some capacity on women’s rights issues, with five of those detained among the most prominent and outspoken women’s rights campaigners in the country.

Pro-government media outlets have splashed their photos online and in newspapers, accusing them of betrayal and of being traitors.

The women activists had persistently called for the right to drive, but stressed that this was only the first step toward full rights. For years, they also called for an end to less visible forms of discrimination, such as lifting guardianship laws that give male relatives final say on whether a woman can travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry.

Their movement was seen as part of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom, which remains an absolute monarchy where protests are illegal and where all major decision-making rests with the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Some state-linked media outlets published the names of those detained, which include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Najfan.

Rights activists who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion say Madeha al-Ajroush and Aisha al-Manae are also among the seven detained. Both took part in the first women’s protest movement for the right to drive in 1990, in which 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs.

All five women are well-known activists who agitated for greater women’s rights. Several of the women were professors at state-run universities and are mothers or grandmothers.

The Interior Ministry on Saturday did not name those arrested, but said the group is being investigated for communicating with “foreign entities,” working to recruit people in sensitive government positions and providing money to foreign circles with the aim of destabilizing and harming the kingdom.

The stunning arrests come just six weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift the world’s only ban on women driving next month.

When the kingdom issued its royal decree last year announcing that women would be allowed to drive in 2018, women’s rights activists were contacted by the royal court and warned against giving interviews to the media or speaking out on social media.

Following the warnings, some women left the country for a period of time and others stopped voicing their opinions on Twitter.

As activists were pressured into silence, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old heir to the throne stepped forth, positioning himself as the force behind the kingdom’s reforms.

Human Rights Watch says, however, the crown prince’s so-called reform campaign “has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment.”

“The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Last year, Prince Mohammed oversaw the arrests of dozens of writers, intellectuals and moderate clerics who were perceived as critics of his foreign policies. He also led an unprecedented shakedown of top princes and businessmen, forcing them to hand over significant portions of their wealth in exchange for their freedom as part of a purported anti-corruption campaign.

In an interview with CBS in March, he said that he was “absolutely” sending a message through these arrests that there was a new sheriff in town.

Activists say writer Mohammed al-Rabea and lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimigh, two men who worked to support women’s rights campaigners, are also among the seven detained. Al-Mudaimigh defended al-Hathloul in court when she was arrested in late 2014 for more than 70 days for her online criticism of the government and for attempting to bring attention to the driving ban by driving from neighbouring United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia.

Those familiar with the arrests say al-Hathloul was forcibly taken by security forces earlier this year from the UAE, where she was residing, and forced back to the kingdom.

In recent weeks, activists say several women’s rights campaigners were also banned from travelling abroad.

Immediately after news of the arrests broke, pro-government Twitter accounts were branding the group as treasonous under an Arabic hashtag describing them as traitors for foreign embassies.

The pro-government SaudiNews50 Twitter account, with its 11.5 million followers, splashed images of those arrested with red stamps over their face that read “traitor” and saying that “history spits in the face of the country’s traitors.”

The state-linked Al-Jazirah newspaper published on its front-page a photo of al-Hathloul and al-Yousef under a headline describing them as citizens who betrayed the nation.

Activists told the AP that some in the group were arrested on Tuesday and at least one person was arrested Thursday. They say the detainees were transferred from the capital, Riyadh, to the city of Jiddah for interrogations where the royal court has relocated for the month of Ramadan.

Activists say it’s not clear why the seven have been arrested now.

via Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail